Response: The Pagan Grail Part 1- Y Tho?

Another blog post I wanted to respond to as I’ve had some free time to write was Damh the Bard’s post: “The Pagan Grail Part 1- Y Tho?” . I had explored the topic of the Grail Quest in conjunction with the Wylde Hunt and what it was I was actively seeking/hunting in the past (in searching for the post I wanted to reference, I am concluding it was on my old and now-archived blog). The gist of the post was that my quest was one for Awen, or divine creative inspiration, and for connectedness with the natural world, and that my “hunt” was less for something corporeal and more for that sense of wonder and liveliness. But it’s now been quite some time since I’ve written that post, and I wanted to answer the questions Damh posed in his post as a thinking and brainstorming exercise for myself.

What is the Grail for you personally? Damh mentions the Grail as being our connection to the land, the cure for the separation between ourselves and the natural world. This feels a much more articulate way of speaking aloud the things I’d been feeling when I wrote that post a few years ago. The Grail is, in one sense anyway, about the ways in which we bring harmony back into our relationship with the natural world. With the current threats to our environment, this seems even more important than ever.

But the Grail has also been for me about moments of co-creation with the divine, those moments where Awen is flowing. These are the frisson-inducing performances, the moving works of art, music, literature… The conversations that leave us thinking for days afterwards because of the depths of the truths discussed. Pursuing the Grail is about pursuing more of those moments in my life. Creating works of art, poetry, music, tending gardens, teaching children… These are things that express the ability within us to weave energy and life like the divine powers of the Universe.

And finally, in conjunction with the first interpretation, the Grail is about personal sovereignty and power. It’s about acknowledging the self as a living being, a part of the natural world, an expression of divine creativity… But with that knowledge, comes the responsibility to take care what energies we propagate, to take actions that are in harmony with the rest of creation, and to take ownership of our actions and the circumstances in our lives.

Have you ever considered your Path as your own Grail Quest? I have absolutely considered my path as my own Grail Quest. Spirituality is something woven into every aspect of my life no matter how mundane it may seem. Seeing my path as the Grail Quest gives a sense of clear direction: a goal to work towards. It may never be perfectly achievable, but that isn’t the point. The point is to be a better person and to make the effort.

Are you the mystic that expresses your Path by how you view the world, who you are Are you the magician who expresses your Path by what you do, by your actions in the world? Both? I think I’m a little bit of both. I find that my actions and my worldview are very much in line with one another, and I couldn’t for the life of me pick one which defines me and my Path more than the other. My sense of being, and the lens through which I view our world determine my actions. My actions in turn affirm and determine who I am. It’s cyclical, I think.

What is the essence that makes these acts or sense of beingness a part of your Path? The essence of these acts/ sense of beingness is that I am a part of our world, no different than any other being. As a part of this world, I have a sense of duty and responsibility to care for it and its inhabitants, to work towards harmony with my fellow inhabitants of our world, and to create beautiful things in celebration of those connections with other beings. A quote that drives much of my life and my actions is:

“When you die, only three things will remain of you, since you will abandon all material things on the threshold of the Otherworld: what you have taught to others, what you have created with your hands, and how much love you have spread. So learn more and more in order to teach wise, long-lasting values. Work more and more to leave the world things of great beauty. And love, love, love people around you for the light of love heals everything” – French Druid Triad, Francois Bourillon.

And by following this philosophy, I find myself a little bit closer to the Grail, and therefore harmony with the natural world, sovereignty over self, and co-creation with the divine.

So, I’ll pose the same questions to you, dear followers:

What is the Grail for you personally?

Have you ever considered your Path as your own Grail Quest?

Are you the mystic that expresses your Path by how you view the world, who you are?

Are you the magician who expresses your Path by what you do, by your actions in the world?

Both?

What is the essence that makes these acts or sense of beingness a part of your Path?

And do make sure to check out the entirety of Damh’s post (as well as the rest of his blog because he’s a magnificent writer).

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

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Thinking About: Discernment and Personal Responsibility

This morning, I had the pleasure of having one of those hour-or-so long phone conversations with a close friend of mine where we find ourselves discussing all manner of things from spirituality, to philosophy, plans for self improvement, and endless other topics. Today, a part of our discussion revolved around the possibility of forming a local group of witchy/pagan folk, and our concerns in doing so based upon things we’ve experienced both in other groups we’ve visited in person, and in the online community.

I’d also recently come across this post by @nightshadeandroses on Tumblr that discussed using discernment when practicing witchcraft. Though my personal opinions are a bit different, I thought she had a number of excellent points, and that some of the the issues she brought up pretty perfectly highlighted some of the concerns my friend and I had had in inviting others into our social circle and building community.

If you begin searching “witchcraft” or “paganism” on a number of sites, but particularly on Tumblr, you very quickly encounter dozens and dozens of blogs where the practitioners are detailing experiences that seem very intense: visions or messages from deities, relationships with spirits and deities that can take any myriad forms from devotional practice to spirit marriage and more, and more and more frequently at least in the media that I encounter: blaming the gods/fae/spirits for things going wrong or seeming out of control in one’s life.

Primrose’s post seems to specifically target those new to the craft who want to believe that everything they encounter is a sign or has some magical significance. Sometimes, a fly is just there because it’s summertime and there’s food about. So how do you differentiate between that instance and when it’s trying to tell you something? It can be difficult, it’s true, especially when you’re eager to embark upon a new spiritual path and start interacting with deities and spirits.

Her post recommends looking at patterns in phenomena, asking if the experience seems to good to be true or mimics a story you recently encountered from someone else, trying divination to confirm the situation, and trying to explain the situation with mundane explanations first.

All of these are excellent suggestions, and even after practicing for over thirteen years, I still routinely go through these steps if I’m not absolutely certain about things. As an example: I’ve seen a number of things associated with Loki lately, both Marvel universe type things and things a former roommate and friend of mine associated with him. I thought it was odd, but I noted when it started and which things seemed to come up more. I noted to myself “Hey, Endgame just came out, and that’s probably contributing some on the Marvel end of it.” and also that I’m not as familiar with the patterns of the wildlife and seasons in Georgia as I was up in Michigan. I made note that I kept seeing these things, but rather than jump to the conclusion that Loki wanted my attention (and as he’s not a deity I work with, it’d be surprising to me if he did), I decided to wait and see if the pattern continued, or died down a bit after the movie hype died down.

The other thing my friend and I were talking about is personal responsibility. It seems to be the same types who are constantly seeing signs from their deities and guides that do this, but I also notice an unnerving amount of “The fae stole x from me.” or “The gods/x deity/whatever has y plan for me, and there’s nothing I can do about it.” as though everything that occurs in one’s life is directly at the hands of the deities one does/n’t worship and nothing one does seems to have any consequence other than potentially swaying those deities one way or another.

A person I knew constantly told me that their deities seemed to be pushing them towards personal sovereignty and leadership, but also blamed those same deities whenever things did not go according to plan. Now, personal sovereignty and leadership certainly are admirable goals to work towards, and it sounds to me like a path towards personal growth and development. So I find myself asking: Why aren’t you working towards them? Why are you resisting those plans they supposedly have for you? Could the mishaps that keep coming perhaps come from patterns that are toxic and restricting and holding you back? If you worship x/y deity, why aren’t you following the sort of virtues you believe they’re laying out before you?

I’m personally of the belief that the gods are not so intimately involved in every aspect of our lives, and that we have free will and the ability to co-create with the divine powers of the Universe. In my belief, we make choices, and the energies that be react in kind. So if I perpetuate toxic behaviors, toxic things will continue to happen to me. If I project that the Universe or the gods are constantly knocking down my tower and don’t do work to build a stronger foundation in my practical life, the pattern will repeat itself.

Image result for the tower tarot

The Tower from the Rider-Waite tarot deck.

The Tower card, I’d joked, was “my buddy” when I was doing tarot readings for myself. For years, it had been a recurring theme: I’d carefully (or so I had thought) construct plans for them to fall through and crumble. I had a narrative I was telling myself about the Universe “knocking over my block tower” just when I’d had it built. I’d blame other people for bailing on plans or not communicating. But I hadn’t considered at all that I was relying on other people rather than standing on my own feet, or that I wasn’t building strong and stable foundations for these plans to rest upon. This winter, while working through some course work, I had the following interaction in a visualization exercise:

I was standing on a summit a small grey bird in my hands. I could feel its heart racing as I held it. Brannan, my guide from the Tower of Pheryllt, stood behind me, his hand on my shoulder.

“A bird…” I must have sounded confused because I’d closed my eyes to visualize a paper boat and my imagination seemed to have a better idea.

“Do you know what it is?” I didn’t turn to face him, but I could hear the smile in Brannan’s voice as he spoke.

I concentrated on the bird for a moment and gave a nod. “It’s the Block Tower Story.”

“And what is the Block Tower Story?” He pressed me further and I furrowed my brow.

“That narrative about the Universe always coming over and knocking “my block tower” over—the one I’m always trying to plan around and avoid—to keep from “being screwed over again”. That Block Tower Story,” I replied.

“Are you ready?”

I looked down at the quivering bird again, took a centering breath, and gave a nod. I let the bird go, urging it out over the sea and away from the cliff. The first time, it came back and perched on my shoulder, its feathers all puffed out as it was clearly agitated.

Brannan gently took the bird from my shoulder and handed it back to me. “Try again. You’ve got to really mean it.” He stepped back again to watch.

I nodded and took another breath, and released the bird again. It made a circle back over my head, but took off over the sea, up into the clouds, and out of sight…

And every time I’ve found myself repeating that story to myself, I imagine myself back on that summit, looking out over the sea with the bird in hand, and I let it go again. Because the Universe isn’t breaking my block tower. I’m not building it correctly, and by taking ownership of that, I’m able to make better decisions about my life- not just in a spiritual sense, but in all of its aspects.

I’ve mentioned in passing, too, my belief that my afterlife is going to be something akin to joining the Wylde Hunt, and that I feel they have plans for me. But rather than resisting those plans, I’ve pushed myself to make actions that reflect that. I spend time in the forests. I try to make decisions that make a more positive impact on the natural world. I get involved with park cleanups and make sure that I’m voting for political officials and policies that protect my fellow citizens and our natural environment. I work on advocating for myself, on finding ways to make myself stronger, healthier, and more confident in myself. I turned my quest to get my driver’s license into a spiritual one as well as a mundane one. I’ve taken actions to get myself to a place more in line with my own goals as well as the ones I believe my gods have given me as well.

It’s not a passive letting the gods take all credit for what happens, good or bad. I am in control of my life, and my gods demand that I be. When I feel they are demanding something of me, it is usually that I take more responsibility for myself and take the reins of my life.

This isn’t meant to sound as though I’m telling folks what to believe, or as though I’m discrediting anyone’s experiences- quite the opposite! I am however concerned with some of the things I see posted, and wanted to encourage others to exercise perhaps some more discernment and take personal responsibility in their craft.

Share your thoughts in the comments below, and as always:

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

Thinking About: My Neo-Paganism

The Wild Unknown Tarot and Candle

Today, I was forwarded an article by Sarah Anne Lawless, titled “For Sale: Neopganism ‘As Is'”. It’s a powerful read, and I do recommend you head over and give it a look if you haven’t seen it floating about the good ol’ neopagan / witchy online community already. I won’t expound too much upon the details within the article. This is meant to be a response to it, not a review or criticism of it. In this poignant work of prose, Sarah Anne Lawless calls attention to the misinformation, lack of consistency, and abuse facing the community at-large.

Some of the information presented: about the origins of the religious and spiritual movements I have been / currently am a part of, about some of the abuse within the community, about the incorrect ‘historical’ information that is often given in widely published books on the topic, was not foreign to me. I spent a great deal of time in my under-grad applying my newly-acquired skills of research to that which was near and dear to my heart: my spirituality.  Some of the information was new, and I admit I was a little heart-broken to hear so many stories of abuse and manipulation associated with something that has brought me so much joy, learning, and purpose in life.

With the negativity floating about in the rest of the world and with as entrenched into the neo-pagan community as these issues seem, it feels very easy to become dejected and hopeless. I don’t want to let that get me down; I want to use it as a motivation for change.

My response to this article is not to review it and dissect it, but to acknowledge that there are real problems that I as a young adult within the community, as a blogger, as a person capable of speaking out about these things want to work to change- and must change if I want the neo-pagan community to be a safe place in the future for myself, for my friends, and for the future generations.

I wanted this post to be a promise to myself, to those who follow this blog, and those affected by my actions within the community:

This is a promise that I will be one-hundred percent honest in the historical context of my spiritual traditions. That I will not willing spread mis-information, and work to correct it should I accidentally do so. That my study will be not of just mass-produced books touting appropriation and misinformation as “ancient tradition” but tempered with actual research, and acknowledgement of what I was inspired by and what is of my own creation. I will not stand for blatantly appropriative behavior in the community. We can share and be inspired by one-another without claiming something as our own.

This is a promise that my neo-paganism is centered in nature-centric and animistic beliefs, and that it honors the past without attempting to claim it. It is a promise that sex and sexuality, while natural, are honored and treated appropriately. I will not stand for sexual abuse in our community. I will not stand for manipulation and abuse of any sort within our community.

This is a promise that my blog and the spaces that I hold on the internet are, and will continue to be safe spaces for people regardless of age, sex, gender, race, etc.

This post stands as an acknowledgement that I am not, and never have been perfect. Humans make mistakes. Well-meaning people spread things without realizing the effect. But this is a promise that I will continue to try and do better in the future.

Let’s make our community better. Let’s get back to the things that matter: personal spiritual growth and caring for one another and our world.

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

Thinking About: Samhain

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A small shrine I set up on my altar. On it, are pieces of jewelry from my mom, my grandmother, and great grandmother.

In this corner of Michigan, it feels almost as though Samhain and Autumn itself have been skipped. The weather has gotten incredibly chilly already, and it seems like the leaves have been dropping a bit faster than they used to. With the all of the warnings about the dangerous changes in the climate, I can definitely feel on these frigid blustery days that something is amiss.

But even the spirit of autumn seems absent. It feels like a dreary veil of grey has sort of fallen over the whole ordeal. Where I would usually be preparing for Samhain, I’m filled with a sort of apathy. Perhaps it’s a reaction to the environment. Perhaps with all that is filling my mind between the horrors of United States politics, the climate, and what’s going on in my own personal life, I just don’t have the energy left.

The time between Mabon, which passed with very little feeling for me this year, and Samhain are usually filled with a great deal of creativity and spiritual activity. The Wylde Hunt appears again in the blustery winds and the rolling thunderstorms. But this year it feels stagnant, and murky. It’s hard to feel as connected as I typically do.

However, I’m of the opinion that succumbing to that feeling of despair and hollowness only gives it a further foothold. Today, after several weeks of disuse, I approached my altar, lit some candles, placed some items in its center to honor my ancestors and family. The feelings of autumn might feel missing, but there is still time to reflect; to tend to the decaying and changing happening under the surface; to honor what was, what is, and what shall be; and to reach out and feel that yes, those energies are still there even when we don’t feel them to be present in our lives.

I suspect Samhain will be a quiet one for me this year. There’s much to think about, and much that needs to change- on a global level and a personal level. Last year was about re-attuning to the cycles and finding the rhythm without the old markers for shifts in the seasons. This year has been a lesson in subtlety, and feeling connected even when it feels most difficult to do so.

What are your plans for Samhain? How are you preparing for the darker part of the year, and the changes still ahead?

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

A Lament at Mabon

I’ve found myself feeling very disconnected and aloof lately. What follows is a bit of wax-poetic rambling from earlier this evening as I sat among the trees to enjoy the energies of Mabon, and the rising of the Full Moon.

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“Princess of Cups” from The Druidcraft Tarot, artwork by Will Worthington

Once I knew the language of trees
How each rustling of their leaves
Could mean so much—if only one knew how to listen.

Once I had so much definition in just that one thing:
That I could see their faces and
Read their leafy lips as they blew in the autumn breezes.
And now it seems so foreign…
Have I been so long in this land of fluorescence and brick?
Have I been gone so long that I have forgotten
How sweet the melodies of the forest can be?

Now it fills my heart not with understanding
But with a melancholy longing
For that which once felt so familiar to me, no—
That which still feels familiar—
But only the familiarity of a dream
As though in the very throes of sleeping wonder
I’ve been wrested from it by mundane duty.
Ephemeral on the edges of my consciousness:
Like flickering of faery light,
And distant horns of hunters that roam the evening skies.

In my heart, with each pulsing of the blood that flows through my veins,
I feel it… an echo.
An echo of something deeper—and much more profound and yet:
In my waking consciousness, I cannot quite put finger on that which I have lived before.
The melody haunts my eardrums and yet I cannot quite put to fingertips—
Or lips—the profound tune that catches in the wind and then is gone.

Faintly, my mind’s eye remembers beauty which no photograph, no drawing—
No painstaking sketch could ever come close to imagining.
On the tip of my tongue, the faintest taste of something… something…
Always searching for that which I cannot in waking consciousness grasp.

With each falling leaf,
With each howl on the wind that seems to pierce my very soul…
I want to remember
I want to wake up
Back in the place where trees spoke and moonlight bled between the branches on inky nights…

There were nights when I would run
From phantom figures in the trees,
Where I swear I heard the hoof-beats harrying me along dirt paths…

There were nights, long ago, that seemed to go on forever,
Where the cold dark eyes of a vampire
Haunted me in my sleep,
Where deep and sorrowful melodies pulled me into a sense of ecstasy.

There nights when I could hear the goddess calling me in the mists,
Her silver light a comfort,
A crow to show me the way…

And yet, now…

I cannot feel more than mere glimmers of what had once been
There was a time when I had tasted of Cerridwen’s cauldron—
When I could see the way energy moved through the land—
So apparent to my sight, that I felt one with them.

And now…
I am so trapped in that webbing of wire and artificial light
That I find myself balking at the very notion of sitting in my own yard past sunset.

And yet
Here I am on the verge of dusk,
Staring, trembling, into the forest—
As if on this night of all nights
Something will come to me that will wake me from this madness

On this grassy marshland hill,
Perhaps I’ll find a wonder—or a wound…
Like blessed Pwyll, of Dyfed before me,
Perhaps my lady in white will come riding by to take me back to that place of understanding,
That place of oneness…

Perhaps the dark hunter will blow his horn
And carry me upon his steed and into the western winds.

Or perhaps,
I will have sat here, my heart broken open,
Only to return again tomorrow
To that endless drudgery of everyday life…

Thinking About: Initiations / Rites of Dedication

yule lantern

Yesterday, I was finally able to perform my initiatory rite into the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. I’m not able to speak at great length about the ritual itself in this post, but I can speak about my feelings leading up to it, and my thoughts following its completion.

Despite having the materials for the course for the past six months or so, I had done very little of the actual course work. Life sort of caught up with me, and my job, home life, and mental health just did not lend me the time and proper head space I had needed to perform the rite. Thankfully, the quiet spell has seemed to have broken over the past couple of days, and I’m feeling called home once again to my practice, my art, and my studies with the little warm spell we appear to be having.

Strangely enough, it was the rite of initiation that had given me some of the most trouble in the materials I had received- not because of its content or its format or any objections I had with what it would entail. I couldn’t quite place the source of it for those first months- in fact, I don’t know that I realized some of the… oddness I’d been feeling until I was speaking to a friend about the topic this afternoon.

Every so often, I had found myself called to go over it once again. I’d start making the plans and preparing for it, and something would come up: the weather would get bad, I’d have something I had to do, etc. It would be set aside and left for the next time I’d felt the stirring somewhere within me to get back to work.

Yesterday was different. I had finally accomplished reformatting the rite a bit so that it would work with the amount of private space I had and a few other technicalities; it sat in my journal, just waiting to be performed. Yesterday was another of our random January thaws. The sun was bright and we were nearing forty or fifty degrees Fahrenheit rather than the bitter 10’s and 20’s that are typical of this time of year. I felt it on my way in to work that morning; something was stirring. By the time I was home for the afternoon, the desire to be outdoors and working on something was burning within me.

And something spoke to me then: the initiation ritual. And after months of trying to plan it out, to perhaps contact other local-ish OBOD members to assist me in performing it, to make sure everything was prepared… I decided simply that I was going to go through with it, and quickly gathered some incense and a candle and my journal, and headed out to the small grove of pine and cedars that has been my sacred space for over ten years…

The ritual was nice, pleasant, it brought me back to a sense of being at home- on my land, within my being, in my spirituality… But as I was walking inside after its completion, and as I was talking to my friend this afternoon, I couldn’t help but think that initiation and dedication rites are never quite as profound as we expect them to be.

herne candle

I find I’m always, on a certain level, expecting the ritual itself to be the eye-opening, awen-inspired moment of “Ah-ha! I understand completely, and now everything will start to be different!” But as I reflected upon my journey to the rite itself, and upon the lessons included with the ritual in my course materials, I realized that the true initiation had begun long before I had stepped out the door that afternoon.

Initiation and dedication to a specific path happens not in the single moment of a ritual. They begin within us before a circle is drawn or a candle lit. The shift of paradigm has occurred before the rite; the rite is merely a formality, a means of affirming that which we have already long known to be true. The epiphany is not a new paradigm or state of being, but a realization that we have arrived at this new place some time ago, and can now acknowledge and celebrate it.

For me, that shift started back some seven or so years ago, when I first saw the Green Man staring up at me from the pages of a book, and I started upon my discovery of Druidry. It was there in my discovery of the OBOD’s countless open resources, the befriending of other members of the order, the books, podcasts, YouTube videos, music, etc. that I found resonated with me- which were created by members. A shift had occurred the day that I purchased the Bardic Grade course, and again on the day I received the first packet of gwersi in the mail. What happened in the grove yesterday was merely me finding the voice to affirm and speak aloud the truths that had been in my heart for years. And now, the journey deeper into my studies continues.

What are your experiences with initiation rites or dedication rituals (be them to a new path, deity, etc.)? Share, if you’d like, in the comment section below.

Blessings of the Winter Forest,
Rachel